Art therapy is the practise of a professional arts therapist coaching their client through personal issues or traumas via the activity (or observation of) creative expression. This form of therapy is relatively new on the traditional therapy scene, but has accumulated a powerful and positive reputation for people dealing with a wide variety of mental and emotional struggles. 

How Does Art Therapy Work?

Art therapy may look different for every client. Because the traumas or difficulties that a particular person experiences are unique, an art therapist will likely need to adjust their sessions in order to accommodate for that client’s exact needs. For example, some clients may be particularly responsive to painting, whereas another may find clarity through collage. 

Using colours, shapes, images, and textures to create a story is often the approach that a skilled art therapist will take with their client. By drawing on past memories and experiences, people can create a picture or expression of how they feel, potentially leading to new insights and perspectives they may not have picked up on before. The use of a visual storyboard can help to create connections between complex personal decisions or events that are otherwise difficult for individuals to observe.

This practise can help to create clarity about painful life events, ultimately allowing individuals to analyse and work through their traumas in a way that is cathartic and intuitive. There are many studies on how the activity of painting or drawing in a safe environment can significantly alleviate stress and promote self-acceptance. 

Art is for Everyone

Contrary to what many may think when they initially hear the term “art therapy”, this practise does not always mean that clients will be creating art themselves. 

Sometimes, a person may be able to find personal insights through the act of simply observing art or when they register to play. In fact, this is something that happens to almost any receptive person who walks into an art gallery – one of the many reasons why humans are able to find connection and inspiration from fine art is because of the ways in which we feel we can relate to it. 

The depiction of human life and emotion expressed in a visual format allows us to perceive thoughts or feelings about both ourselves and the world that we may not have been able to articulate otherwise. This is the service of art and artists in our world. 

What Can Art Therapy Treat?

Some of the most typical situations that therapists may find art a useful tool for personal development are as follows: 

  • Children with neurological disabilities
  • People experiencing severe stress or anxiety 
  • People who have gone through a traumatic event
  • People with depression
  • People experiencing injury or illness-related mental health issues 
  • People with emotional difficulties 
  • Couples or families with relationship difficulties
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)

Most of the research completed on the effectiveness of art therapy is conclusively beneficial, but it is still a new form of therapy that is in need of recognition and experience. Art therapists can become qualified either through achieving a degree in psychotherapy or social work in addition to a background in fine art, or undergoing a course with the American Arts Therapy Association (AATA).